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Seeking Answers to Europe's Jobless Problem

Unemployment is a Europe-wide problem. Some 18 million people are without jobs across the European Union (EU), where the jobless rate is twice that in the United States.

The jobless themselves are developing links across national frontiers. Last week, German unemployed protesters used tactics, such as occupying unemployment offices, that French counterparts pioneered in January. But there is no Europe-wide answer to the crisis.

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While France and Italy pursue the shorter workweek route and Germany dithers, Britain touts the success of radical free-market reforms undertaken by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s. Britain's jobless rate has fallen to 6.6 percent.

Even the new Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has been converted. Although he is careful not to boast too loudly to his European colleagues, Mr. Blair has made job creation a centerpiece of the EU agenda during Britain's presidency of the 15-member organization for the first half of 1998.

"We don't feel that it is sensible or practical to come up with one blueprint" for Europe, says one British official. "What works in one country does not necessarily work in another. But there is a desire to spread [the] best practice, and we think our experience may be of interest to others purely because it has worked."

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